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Clinton, Democrats Set 1998 Agenda

President Clinton got a rousing welcome from congressional Democrats today - as he asked for a boost in the minimum wage.

Cheers and hoots greeted the president in a Capitol Hill auditorium.

Vice President Gore introduced Mr. Clinton, urging Democrats to "stand by" their leader. There was no mention of the Monica Lewinsky scandal.

Instead, the president n trumpeted a Democratic agenda that includes hiring more teachers, expanding Medicare and subsidizing child care.

Mr. Clinton also called for a dollar-an-hour increase in the minimum wage. He said it's only fair that Americans at the low end of the wage scale share in a booming economy.

"We've got to stay the path of fiscal discipline," Mr. Clinton told the Democrats. "We dare not abandon it."

He cited the booming economy, low unemployment and low inflation and gave credit to the Democratic leadership for helping enact initiatives he has supported.

Mr. Clinton said the programs are not a political agenda. But it was clear that the issues were chosen to draw contrasts with Republicans this November when the entire House and one-third of the Senate face re-election.

Even so, he urged Democratic lawmakers to work with Republicans to pass as many of the agenda items into law this year, rather than seek stalemates that can be used against the GOP during upcoming campaigns.

"If it doesn't happen this year, we owe it to the American people to make sure it was not our fault,'' Mr. Clinton said.

He also said he wanted to increase the current US $5.15 hourly minimum wage by $1 an hour in two 50-cent increments by the turn of the century.

"If people are going to show up for work, they ought to be able to raise their children," comfortably, he told the crowd.

Senator Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., and other liberals last month proposed raising the minimum wage by $1.50 to $6.65 an hour by September 2000 and indexing it to inflation thereafter. Mr. Clinton endorsed raising the minimum wage in his State of the Union message last month, but did not specify by how much.

Mr. Clinton's endorsement would keep the White House behind an issue that Democrats believe has helped them politically in the past.

Mr. Clinton, Gephardt and Daschle also endorsed other proposals they have already unveiled.

These include keeping the budget balanced and using surpluses to reduce the US $5.4 trillion national debt; expanding Medicare access to people as young as 55; increasing the rights for information and appeals for the growing numbers of people under managed care plans; and helping states hire 100,000 elementary school teachers to reduce class sizes.

They repeated the president's call to correct Social Security's long-term problems, but without specifying how. Finding a solution to one of the trickiest political issues around is likely to take at least a year.

House Republican leaders, menwhile, returned from a three-day GOP retreat Wednesday saying they would rather use the $100 billion Mr. Clinton wants for new domestic initiatives over the next five years for tax cuts.

"We're pretty confident about the way that choice comes out" with the voters, House Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., told reporters.

Returning from their meeting in Williamsburg, Va., Gingrich and other GOP leaders did not say how deeply they would seek to cut taxes this year.

Representative Bill Archer, R-Texas, chairman of the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee, and others have already said that resources to pay for a tax cut are limited, even though budget surpluses are expected as early as this year. That is because of the political difficulty in agreeing to spending cuts - or revenue increases - required to pay for the tax cuts.

The GOP leaders also said they will try changing budget rules this year to make it easier to pay for tax reductions through spending cuts.

By ALAN FRAM, Associated Press Writer. ©1998 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed